I spent the entire April watching Filipino movies. These are not just your run-off-the-mill movies shown lately in the big screen. These are your classic films released in the 80s when I was too young to enjoy these movies.
First on the list is the Ishmael Bernal classic Manila By Night (1980) (officially released as City After Dark after then First Lady Imelda Marcos objected the use of Manila in the title) chronicling the lives of ordinary people when day turns into night in Manila. There is the young man (William Martinez) who gets addicted to drugs, a mother (Charito Solis) who has a secret past (watch out for that intense and over-the-top sequence when she finds a stash of drugs on her son’s room and the aftermath), a taxi driver (Orestes Ojeda) who has several mistresses, a gay designer (Bernardo Bernardo) who sleeps with anyone willing to share his bed, a naïve provincial lass (Lorna Tolentino), a blind masseur (Rio Locsin) forced to perform live sexual acts (watch out for that scene where she goes berserk), a lesbian drug dealer (Cherie Gil), and a nurse (Alma Moreno) who works graveyard. The film is packed with many characters and subplots but it doesn’t feel cramped nor rushed. Many critics have said this is Bernal’s best film; same way as Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Mga Liwanag (1975) was Lino Brocka’s. Methinks Himala (1982) is Bernal’s best.
The second on the list was another Ishmael Bernal film – Hinugot sa Langit (1985). This time he tackles abortion which is no mean feat to shoot at a time when the country was still under martial rule. The film stars a terrifically subdued Maricel Soriano who gets impregnated by a married man and is now at a bind whether to keep the baby or get rid of it. Her religious landlady (Charito Solis), a liberated cousin (Amy Austria) whose performance here reminds me of Maila Gumila’s comics-loving character in Chito Rono’s Dahas, and a philandering husband (Al Tantay) gives her conflicting advice. . I think this is a landmark film because of its topic and that it was shot in a country where premarital sex, condoms, any topic concerning sex and the RH bill is frowned upon by the mighty Catholic Church.
The third and last film was Private Show (1985). Before Rosanna Roces literally bared all in Curacha: Ang Babaeng Walang Pahinga (1998) and the brouhaha caused by Jose Javier Reyes’ Live Show (2000), there was this film helmed by first-time director Chito Rono. It stars a young, slim, and very naked Jaclyn Jose as a sexy dancer who decides to try out having sex on a stage in a cramped room for a living. She’s terrific in the film. There are no big emotions or grandiose gestures. When she speaks about her life to her live sex partner, her voice has this sad twinge in it, a slight showing of sadness as she looks back at a life born out of struggle.
Watching all three was not a walk in the park. I have been so used to watching glossy films, including the Hollywood films dating from the 1940s, that watching dark and grainy films with bad sound tested that I had to restrain from grabbing the remote control and switching DVDs. It was worth it though especially the more than 2-hour running time of Manila By Night. I still have a few local films on my queue – classic films released in the 70s by Lino Brocka and Marilou Diaz-Abaya – but I’m taking a self-imposed respite from these films. Hollywood and foreign-language films muna.